Carolina Jessamine (Ceratonia siliqua) is a small evergreen vine with purple flowers. Its leaves are dark green and it grows up to 10 feet tall. It produces white berries which taste like strawberries when eaten raw or cooked. Carrot vines grow along roadsides, fences, walls and other vertical surfaces where they provide shade from sun rays during hot summer days. They have been used as ornamental plants since ancient times because of their attractive foliage and edible fruit.
The plant’s name comes from the Latin word “ceratonia” meaning “white”. The plant was first cultivated in China around 500 B.C.E., but its cultivation did not become widespread until the 16th century in Europe, where it became popular among royalty and nobility due to its rarity and high price.
At one time, it was considered a rare delicacy of France and Spain. The plant was also used medicinally and in folk medicine.
It is believed that the plant originated in Africa, where it may have been brought to Europe by Arab traders. However, there is no proof that this is true. Some experts believe that the plant came from Asia and spread throughout Europe through trade routes established between India and Italy during the Middle Ages.
The name “carolina” refers to both the color of its leaves and its native state; it means “white” in Spanish while “carolus” is Latin for “of the Carolinas.” Jessamine is a variant of the word “jasmine”, which comes from the Persian word yasmin, meaning “medicine.”
The plant is native to North and South America, where it grows wild in the sandy or clay soil. It prefers warm conditions.
Plants prefer full sun but can tolerate light shade. It grows best in fertile, moist but well-drained soil but can tolerate a wide range of soil types as long as the soil is not water-logged. It does not grow well in compacted clay or dry, sandy soils. In colder areas, it grows best in a container that can be moved indoors when temperatures fall below freezing.
The plant is easy to grow from seed. Sow seeds in spring when fresh. Cover with fine soil. Seeds sprout in 14 to 21 days, when they are about 2 inches high.
Transplant seedlings to individual pots when they are 10 to 12 inches high. Space plants 3 to 4 feet apart in rows 5 to 6 feet apart.
Ceratonia grows rapidly and can reach up to 15 feet in height. They thrive when their roots are confined in a container, such as a clay pot or a raised bed. Place the container in an area that receives full sun. Keep the soil lightly moist and fertilize them monthly with a general-purpose fertilizer.
Carolina jessamine vines produce tiny white flowers in the spring which are followed by seeds. The flowers have a faint but pleasant scent. In order to get the flowers to bloom, you can trim off the seed pods once they start to turn brown but before they open. This forces the plant to expend energy on producing flowers rather than seeds.
It takes several years for the plant to produce a sizeable flower crop.
Plants can be propagated by seed or by root cuttings. The seeds are very small so they should not be planted right away. Let them dry out for a few days until they are crispy. Store them in an envelope until you are ready to plant them, making sure that they don’t get wet.
Sow the seeds 1/4 inch deep in sterile seed starting mix. Water gently and keep them moist. Germination should occur in 14 to 21 days at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Transplant the seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle and are growing well.
You can take root cuttings during the spring and summer. Cut a 4-inch long section of root no thicker than a pencil with a sharp knife or garden clippers. Remove the lower leaves and brush the cut end with a wire brush to remove the dirt. Soak the cutting in water for at least 24 hours before planting.
Plant the cuttings 1/2 inch deep in a sandy soil that has been enriched with compost or well-rotted manure. The cuttings should be planted in a partially shaded to sunny location. Keep the soil moist but not overly wet.
Carolina jessamine can also be propagated by division. Select a healthy mother plant that has several shoots coming off the main stem and a cluster of roots at the base. Dig up the plant in the fall when it is dormant, or in the spring just as new growth begins. Separate the clump into individual plants and replant immediately.
Fill in the hole with soil and water well.
Native Americans used the roots of this vine to make a tea that was believed to be a cure-all.
The plant has compounds that can be poisonous if too much is eaten. While there are reports that the plant is slightly toxic to humans and other mammals, deer and rabbits eat it with no apparent problems.
The roots are rich in resins, saponins and alkaloids. The plant also contains niacin, ascorbic acid, calcium, potassium and beta carotene.
The tea made from the leaves is used to treat coughs, colds, congestion, asthma and hay fever. It is also used to treat stomach and intestinal problems such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and cramps. The tea is also taken to reduce fevers, stimulate the nervous system and to improve mental alertness.
The flowers are edible and can be added to salads.
Carolina jessamine has been found to be toxic when ingested. Distillation of the leaves produces a toxic liquor that causes serious illness.
The plant contains toxic resins, alkaloids and saponins. When the plant is burned, it gives off toxic fumes.
Preparations of this plant should be avoided as much as possible.
If you do come in contact with this plant, you should immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and avoid further contact. If you experience symptoms such as numbness, tingling or burning, seek medical attention.
The roots contain toxic resins, alkaloids and saponins. The flowers contain toxic alkaloids.
This plant is toxic to humans and other mammals. Rabbits and deer seem to have a penchant for this plant and grazing often leads to poisoning.
The roots, stems, leaves and seeds all contain toxic alkaloids. The roots are primarily responsible for this toxicity.
The most common alkaloid in the root is jessamine harsh. It is also known as geissospermin. This compound is only found in the genus Cestrum. It is a crystalline alkaloid and is only slightly soluble in water.
It is also highly toxic and can cause serious illness or even death if ingested.
The root also contains other toxic alkaloids or resins such as jessaminine, cestrin, jessammarin, cestrimaridine and geissospermotine. These compounds are also very toxic and can also cause illness if eaten.
Some of the side effects of these alkaloids in humans are dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision, headache, fever, rapid heartbeat, dilated pupils, slow and shallow breathing, nausea and vomiting and diarrhea.
One doctor reported a case where a man ingested the juice of a root. He soon developed a fast heart rate, tremors and dilated pupils. He recovered when the toxicity was drawn out with an emetic and other treatments.
Most reports of this plant are from animals eating it. Cows, horses, sheep, goats and swine have all been poisoned after grazing on the plant.
The toxic alkaloids of this plant are also passed on through milk when cows eat the leaves and stems of the plant. One farmer reported that all of his cows gave sour milk after ingesting this plant. Some of the cows suffered from muscular tremors after eating the plant for some time.
There is also a report of a child dying from drinking the milk of a cow that had eaten this plant. The death was ruled accidental.
The stem, leaves and seeds also contain high levels of these toxic compounds. Eating large amounts of the plant can lead to illness.
The stems and leaves also contain smaller amounts of other alkaloids such as jesamin, geissospermine, cestrin and jessammarin. These alkaloids are also toxic.
The flowers also contain toxic compounds such as cestrin, geissospermoline and eujispermine. These are also toxic and can cause illness if ingested.
Some of these act as stimulants, others as sedatives and some have other effects on the nervous system. Some can also lead to hallucinations. These compounds are not only toxic to humans but also to other animals such as livestock and pets. A single bite of the leaves can lead to sickness in horses, sheep and cattle.
The seeds contain large amounts of toxic alkaloids that can also lead to illness in humans and other animals. The toxins are present in all parts of the plant but are most concentrated in the root and seeds.
Unlike other plants, the berries are not poisonous, however they do not taste good and most animals will avoid them if another food source is available.
It is also possible that if several plants contain different alkaloids that these could be taken up by a plant and concentrate in the fruit. So plants with poisonous fruit may actually deter most animals from eating them.
The berries are less likely to cause illness in humans and could be eaten after removing the seeds. They can be used in making jams and preserves.
The flowers can also be eaten if thoroughly rinsed and the petals removed. They can be used in salads as a low calorie filler. The leaves can also be eaten but should be cooked first to destroy the alkaloid toxins.
While it is possible to harvest these parts of the plant for food, they should only be used as a last resort. Most of the time there are more edible plants that can be eaten.
The use of this plant for medicine is also limited and should only be used when nothing else is available. It can be used as a pain killer, but will become less effective if taken repeatedly. This is due to the body building up a tolerance to the alkaloids.
It can be used to treat mild pain such as headaches, menstrual cramps, mild back pain etc. It should only be used for short periods of time and should not be used with other pain killers.
Common uses are as an anesthetic for minor operations and the treatment of respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and tuberculosis.
It has also been found useful in treating diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, typhoid and influenza.
Some herbal medicine combinations also include this plant due to its antibiotic properties.
It can be used to treat the symptoms of cholera, dysentery, malaria, diarrhea and even leprosy.
It can also be used as an antipyretic to reduce fevers.
In some natural medicine’s it is used in the treatment of allergic reactions, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, asthma and hay fever.
On the down side it has been linked to miscarriages and birth defects when taken by pregnant women in the later stages of their pregnancies.
This plant is not without its dangers and should be handled with care.
It is toxic and even deadly if too much is taken.
The root is the most toxic part of the plant, followed by the seeds and the leaves. The fruit contains much lower amounts of toxins.
Preliminary tests have show that it can cause cancer in some animals but this has not been proven in humans. It can also cause damage to the liver and kidneys.
Some people have an allergic reaction to it, as with any medicine this can sometimes be life threatening.
It is possible to poison yourself with this plant if you eat too much at one time.
Go slow when using this plant and listen to your body.
The first few times you use it, do not take it with other medicines or alcoholic drinks. This will give your body the chance to feel the effects and see if you have an allergic reaction to it.
These side effects shouldn’t put you off using this plant. It has saved countless lives and will continue to do so.
It is not always possible to get a doctor or buy medicines for every illness that you may come down with when out in the wilderness.
With a wide variety of uses and a low risk of side effects, this should definitely be one plant that every forager should take with them into the bush.
The Lancetilla Botanical Gardens are open every day from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon.
Entry is free for all.
Sources & references used in this article:
Effect of nitrogen fertilization rate on aesthetic quality of landscape-grown vines and groundcovers by AL Shober, KA Moore, GS Hasing, C Wiese… – …, 2014 – journals.ashs.org
Growth control of Asiatic jasmine and Carolina jessamine with uniconazole by GJ Keever, WJ Foster – Journal of Environmental …, 1995 – meridian.allenpress.com
Landscape Vines for Southern Arizona by PL Warren – 2013 – repository.arizona.edu
Twining Vines by PL Warren – cals.arizona.edu